[This Commentary originally appeared in the November 16, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
The long day generally leaves a tired wasted body which desires only a warm meal, a soft sofa, and the remote control device. Don’t get me wrong. I really don’t consider myself a couch potato (though I wish I could afford that luxury). In fact, I peruse but two TV shows on a regular basis – the news and Star Trek (either the original or the newer series).
I find it very convenient that I often arrive home when either of these shows are on. Such timing grants me the opportunity to cook while watching the news and dine during Star Trek. (Don’t tell my mother, she still doesn’t like me to watch TV when eating dinner.)
Pleasant consistency, however, cannot exist in the dynamic media. Demographics and Arbitron Ratings eventually invade even the most staid of stations (witness the former WEZO FM101). The constant struggle for the fickle market wrecks any attempt to successfully gauge our lives by any short-lived broadcast.
Some say syndication provides a useful extension to our boob tube barometer, yet the vagaries introduced by syndication offer no reliable measure of time. For one thing, by its very definition, a television repeat freezes the aging process. More importantly, like pawns, old shows move from time slot to time slot per the whims of the station managers, quickly dashing any effort the customer may make to enter a comfortable viewing schedule.
Through all this change, one rock stands out – Star Trek. For nearly as long as memory serves, we’ve been graced with the futuristic episodes from 7 to 8pm. I wax nostalgic on remembering as a teenager Saturday night dinners – my mother’s home made pizza and Star Trek. (Yes, after years of wearing her down, mom finally conceded and permitted us to keep the TV on through dinner. Of course, being a wise negotiator, she limited this rule to only three shows – the news, Star Trek, and the Bills’ game.)
As with any other habit formed at a youthful age, I have come to expect Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock to join me for supper. Besides, I enjoy relaxing to a straightforward morality play whose message rings true from the 1960s to the 24th century.
But why would someone who has seen the old episodes at least a dozen times each and has most of them on videotape continue to look forward to them? Does Star Trek create some sort of undocumented addiction? Are we correct in thinking an avid viewer simply lives in a fantasy world? Is Gene Roddenberry the leader of a secret cult? Or are Trekkers just hoping that, like the Honeymooners, a hidden cache of “Lost Star Trek” episodes will be discovered in a dusty vault of the old Desilu Productions studio?
Maybe we’re all just trying to figure out exactly when William Shatner started wearing that toupee.
Whatever the case, one night after saying good night to Peter Jennings, I switched the channel in anticipation. My caring sister-in-law, Betsy, who had a better grasp of the TV schedule than I obviously did, tried in vain to protect me by encouraging me to watch Vanna White instead. Stubbornly, I waded through the 7:00 commercials. The station identification signified the end of the advertisements and I poised myself, excitedly wondering what the night’s particular episode might be.
Sensing imminent doom, Betsy sighed and, unbeknownst to me, quickly hid all unsecured (i.e., throwable) items and carried the baby to safety in the other room. The smelling salts, hastily prepared, turned out not to be needed. My brother, however, remained at the steady with the sedatives.
There I sat on the edge of my chair. On the TV appeared that empty pause you always see just before the show starts. I edged closer in expectation. The screen suddenly blazed with light and the show began. Imagine the shock that shot through me when I realized my patient hunger would be treated to… Who’s the Boss?!
In stunned silence (due no doubt to the phenomenon known as “psychic numbing”), I quietly stood up, turned off the TV and went back to the kitchen to read the evening paper.
For the past two weeks we Trekkers have consoled each other. Granted, The Next Generation episodes continue to air at 7pm on Saturday nights (and maybe Friday at 8pm as well), but the consensus among the crowd seems to be that the timing is unfair. Many people I’ve spoken to enjoy the weekday time slots. They say they go out on Saturday nights, so as far as they are concerned, Star Trek has been cancelled. (For me, however, a non-existent social life turns out to be a mixed blessing.)
But let’s go back to the videotape comment for a moment. Why doesn’t (or can’t) the VCR replace the insatiable desire for the long defunct series? We might as well ask why people listen to the radio for music when they can simply put on their own pre-made audio tapes and hear the music they know they’ll like.
Randomness. The arbitrary selection of tunes surprises us each and every time. It mixes up our usually predictable day and gives us a chance to relax in one brief moment of exhilaration. For Trekkers, this moment starts at the very second the show begins. Like Name That Tune, each Trekker plays Name That Episode. The teaser scenes, many of which have nothing to do with the eventual plot, present an exciting guessing game.
You just can’t do that if you know what the episode is when you put a tape in the VCR. The Name That Episode phenomenon also prompts the need to watch as many episodes as possible – no matter how many times you’ve seen them. It’s a great game. At times, it can be more entertaining than Pictionary.
Oh, yes. The telephone number in the title. That’s for Channel 31. They used to have Star Trek on during the weekdays. I wonder how many people would like to suggest they return to that more comfortable format?
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]